Spyda's Blog

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Browsing Posts tagged Fenwick

Ol’ skool

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When did I become old school? Have to admit I am. When I think back to days out on the lava fields on the big island I realize just how lucky we were as many of those places we used go to are now gone under new construction. In a few decades there will be even fewer places still.

Long way down, slow going, hot, I still miss it a lot!!


When we started, old school was things like Templars and full bamboo rods. Black Penn 6’os, Long Beaches and Jigmasters were the norm.  High speed Penn 6’os, 4’os and Newells were gaining popularity along with their kits to modify Penns. Daiwa had just entered the market with their Penn “clones”. Half and half rods were still common and one piece rods were the rule.

The new ulua blank in town was the Sabre 540, a two piece blank that came with a fibreglass dowel to splice it together. The standards were Lamiglass SB160 or SB162’s and the Fenwick 16810. Two piece ulua rods were the exception rather than the norm as they are these days.

A half & half and a Sabre 540 restored beautifully by Gilbert Madriga

So, there I was trying to get back into it after a decade plus hiatus. It’s not as though I totally gave up fishing, just didn’t go very often and outings were far, far less serious, fishing primarily with spinners. I’d rig up the big spinner when the family or neighbors picnicked or stayed at a beach house. Then Facebook came along and I started to seek out other fishermen to share the interest with and met “Bruddah Bill” on his Ulua Fishing page. I enjoyed talking fishing and giving beginners advice on the page. This eventually led to Bill inviting me to become a moderator on a new fishing forum he was starting up. I had no idea what that entailed, but, I dove in anyway just happy to feel a part of the fishing scene again! http://forums.ifishhawaii.com/

It was the “big” forum in town commonly referred to as “HFF” that taught me a lot about the “New School” and made me see that I was “Ol’ skool”.  The nice thing was that through the forum I was also able to re-connect with old fishing friends from my time living on the big island. http://www.ulua-fishing.com/hff/index.php

So, in this day and age of social media on the Internet, where are our historians? Is it just the data stored on servers that will become our historical libraries? As far as Ulua fishing, the only “official” Ulua fishing historians I know of are Brian Funai and John R. K. Clark. Brian was born into the family of an ulua fisherman and has done much research on the subject for articles he has written about ulua fishing history. John Clark, a former life guard has written a number of books about beaches in Hawaii and spoke to many ulua fishermen while researching his book “Guardian Of The Sea – Jizo in Hawaii” which chronicles the Jizo statues and obelisks placed as warnings near spots where fishermen have died.  Much of our sports deeper history is so to speak “under-ground” or local knowledge handed down from friend to friend, father to son or daughter. One of the old friends I mentioned re-connecting with through HFF is known on the forum as “kona-ulua-style”.  He is one of many who have transitioned from what the young guns these days call old school to the current state of ulua fishing. He continues to “pound” as they say, perhaps in a slightly more laid back fashion then back in the days of casting club affiliation and more serious, less family oriented outings, but, his knowledge of all things “Ulua” is un-questioned. Perhaps it’s people like kona-ulua-style, that we, who may be interested in the history of ulua fishing need to tap into to help keep the knowledge and adventures alive!!

I wrote this story based on an incident that happened to a friend of mine, Carl Nakai, who was renting a room in my house in Kona at the time. The story was published by Hawaii Fishing News in their July 1989 edition. Carl and I had planned this outing together and as it turns out Carl went down alone in the morning and I arrived later that day after work. This entire incident happened before I got there, so, the story is written in third person as it is Carl’s story entirely. I recall thinking it was odd to find Carl just sitting with no poles out when I pulled up. The look he gave me when we fist made eye to eye contact confirmed my feeling that something wasn’t right. 

The road finally broke through the treeline and I got my first look at the shore. Rugged black lava bordered the deep blue ocean. I reflected for a moment on how lucky I was to be living on the Big Island and having the opportunity to come to beautiful places like this to relax while enjoying one of my favorite pastimes, shorecasting. I did not realize at the time the horror that was about to unfold.

When I got to the camping spot, I stood on the cliff overlooking the little island that we cast from. There was a strong swell pushing in from the south. Because of the depth of the water in the area it was difficult to determine how strong the surf was just by watching the point. The answer came quickly, however, as a large swell slammed into the bay to my right and sent a fountain of white water 20 feet high out of a blowhole some 15 feet back from the edge of the cliff. A stiff breeze out of the north blew the spray over everything including me and my freshly polished truck. I kept watching the island. The water splashed and boiled all around, but never on it. Somehow, the shape of the ledge and the depth of the water kept the little island safe. I decided to go ahead and cast my poles.

I set up my two Fenwick rods, one with an extended 4/o reel, the other with an extended 6/o and crossed over the bridge to the island. After casting both rods I slid down tohei fillets. I figured I’d leave them there for several hours till my fishing partner Joel arrived in the afternoon. I knew from experience it was very difficult to “jack-up” your poles alone at this spot.

Having gotten that done, I started back to set up camp. I looked at my watch. It was 10:30 a.m.

Suddenly, my 4/o reel went off! The bell clanged loudly and a short burst of line ripped off the reel! Then, just as quickly, the pole stood straight up and the line went slack. As I made my way back to the island I figured I had “cut line” or “no hookup.” After removing the safety cord and bell, I took up the slack. The mainline was hopelessly stuck somewhere on the bottom. I struggled with it for a while, but, due to lack of space on the island, I was unable to break it free. I finally cut the line. Feeling a bit frustrated, I carried the rod and reel back to camp to rerig. When I got there I decided to shuffle around some of the equipment and while doing so, “BANG!” the 6/o reel went off!!

I looked up fully expecting to see the rod stand up and the line go slack again, but, no, not this time! The rod arched over  violently and the ratchet screamed! Again the rod shook and pointed to the depths as the scream of the ratchet became even more frenzied! When I finally got back to the rod, line was still paying out. I knew I was hooked up solidly to something huge!

The rod was stuck in the holder, so I waited patiently as the runs started to come in shorter spurts. Finally, the rod tip slowly lifted as the pressure eased up and I quickly pulled the rod out. I leaned back on the rod to let the fish know I was there. It responded with another run. The extended 6/o was now down to below half spool. I could see the blood knot now which told me I had about 150 yards left. I remembered a discussion I had with Mel Hamada about fighting fish here and recall that his advice to me was “let ‘um run!” That’s what I had been doing to this point and I felt confident I had things under control.

As the fish slowly started to slow, I was lucky enough to find a hole in the rocks where I could set the pole and still pump the fish in like I was using a gimbal. With this added leverage I started to work the fish a little harder. It made a wide arc to the the right. Then, as it got closer, it started to veer to the left. That was the one thing I didn’t want because I had seen and heard of other fish that had gotten stuck or lost on the left side. Moments later what I had feared came true, the fish was stuck!

I slacked off the line and put the pole back in one of the holders, leaving just enough tension on the line so I could watch the tip respond to any changes. As much as I didn’t want this to happen, it was a welcome break for my arms and back. I had been fighting the fish for nearly 45 minutes. I sat and watched it for another 15 minutes and then the tip suddenly started to dip and the lines angle changed. I quickly picked up the rod and took up the slack. It was clear!

With renewed vigor I began to pump the fish up again. Slowly the spool refilled. Then, there was a huge silver slab quivering below the point just above the ledge. Ulua! I kept looking behind me up the mountain hoping to see Joel’s white truck coming down the trail. I knew it was too early for him to arrive, but, I kept hoping, realizing that landing this fish alone was going to be difficult. As I brought it closer and closer I could see the ulua was very weak and could not swim against the strong surges. Just then a large wave pulled it around the backside of the island and I lost sight of it in the white water. It resurfaced a few seconds later in front of the point and my line got caught under the island. I tried to clear it, but, to no avail. I slacked the line again and put the pole back in the holder. Quickly, I went over to where I had laid my slide gaff and uncoiled a few yards of it’s rope.

The huge ulua was 15 to 20 feet off the point being tossed around in the surge like a little 1/2 lb. papio in the shore break of some white sand beach. Each time the water receeded the fish was sucked under the point out of sight. The only thing on my mind was getting the gaff in the fish before the 80 lb. test monofiliment gave way to the sharp rocks below. Knowing full well that time was of the essence, I walked to the edge in waist deep water and began tossing the gaff out to the fish, hoping somehow to latch onto it. Time after time the gaff slid over the back of the big fish without hooking up. Finally, after what seemed an eternity (actually a few seconds), one of the gaff hooks lodged itself in the uluas massive head.

As I pulled the ulua closer, I could see a long scar across the lower part of its body. It had numerous other scars on its head and body. This was no pretty boy, it was a grizzled old-timer. I pulled the fish in and tried to lift it onto the rocks. The weight was incredible! I couldn’t lift it! The 55 pounder I had caught the month before seemed small and light by comparison.

There was no time to analyze the situation. I pulled the gaff closer to my body for better leverage and tried to grab the uluas tail. I couldn’t reach it! The fish was too long. A sudden surge came in and pulled the ulua away from me to the left. The force was so strong that it spun me around 180 degrees so that I was facing the shore with my back to the ocean. I felt the gaff slip from my grasp and rope burn through my hand. I finally let go, and the water kept coming. I was up to my neck in the rushing water. I tried desperately to hold on, but, the sea was too powerful. I made a quick gasp for air, but, all I got was a mouthful of water as I was pulled off the left side of the rock and under.

I was encased in a mass of bubbles and could feel the pressure building as the water took me deeper and deeper. I had no control over my body as the current whipped me around effortlessly. In all my years of surfing I had never experienced such fury and such a feeling of helplessness. My life began to flash before my eyes. I can remember thinking “I’m not going to make it.” Although those kinds of thoughts were passing through my mind, somehow, I guess in part to my surfing and diving experience, I managed to keep a clear head and not panic. The current finally started to ease just a bit. I kicked and flailed with all I had left, broke through the surface and took a huge gasp of air as I did. I shook my head to clear it out and saw that I was 20 to 30 feet off the point in the deep blue.

The current was still pulling me. I looked around to see if there were any boats in the area. There were none. I decided I had two choices, one, drift with the current and hope for a boat to come by, or, two, take my chances with the surge and try to get back on the island. I looked again for boats. Seeing none, I swam toward the island. “If there’s a God up there,” I thought, “please help me get in!” As I got near the point another big surge came in and neatly lifted me onto the rocks.

I scrambled up the rocks to the safety of the island like a scared a’ama crab. I sat totally exhausted. I looked back and saw the ulua floating just outside the point. I just shook my head and said, “No way.” There was no way I was going to go back in the water and get the fish. I looked down at my body and saw scrapes raked across my chest and stomach and cuts on my legs. The injuries seemes minor in light of how easily I could have lost much more. I said my thanks and a few minutes later got up to walk across the bridge back to camp.

I guzzled some ice water, sat down to collect myself and for 45 minutes watched it, the shorecasters dream, a 100 plus ulua, drifting away in the current. It wasn’t until another 45 minutes passed that the first boat came into the area. It was a zodiac containing two couples. I flagged them down and told them there was a huge ulua floating around outside. They went out in the general direction and did a few circles, but, they found nothing. At that point I knew it was just not meant to be. It was an epic heavyweight battle. I lost my trophy and nearly my life. The ulua lost it’s life. It was a fight to the finish with no winner.

Maui Wowee!!

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Dean, Edmund and I had made the trip over to Maui to meet up with our friend Steve. I was born on Maui and still have family there, so, being on Maui always makes me happy! I have many fond memories of simpler times at my grandfathers home at Camp 3 near Spreckelsville.

 The plan was a camp out at one of our favorite spots on the backside of Haleakala. The rented station wagon and Steve’s little Ford Fiesta were loaded down with the four of us and all of our fishing and camping gear. How we ever got down the trail to the spot I don’t know! We parked and set up our camp about 20 yards from the area along the shore we were going to cast our lines. We had started coming to this spot for day trips to whip in the area. Papio, Moi and Wahanui were common catches.

Our usual game plan was to first set up camp then head off on our own to whip different spots in the area. The black sand beach along the bay was my favorite, I had found a little moi hole that produced pretty consistently. I string up my 6 foot graphite rod and Penn 722z. I tie on a 3/8 oz leadhead and slide a 6 inch lime green glitter curly tail over the hook. The water is nice, small waves are breaking about 20 yards from shore. I start whipping and work my way down the beach, the “spot” is about 75 yards down the beach so I get a couple of dozen casts before I get near the zone. I decide to make one more cast before walk the last 20 yards to the middle of the zone. I toss it straight out and let the lure sink for a few seconds, I lift the rod to start working it in, but, stuck? Wait a minute fish on!! Nope, nope, dead weight, shoot, rubbish…..I jiggle the rod trying to get free of what ever is stuck on my line, finally it comes off and the lure is free! I reel it in expecting to see the curly tail pushed back on the hook when it stops again and the reel suddenly starts screaming! After a short battle I have  a pretty nice little moi flapping around on the black sand! Yee ha!

First days tally one moi and two nenue. Poke the nenue and the moi would be saved for dinner at Steve’s house after camp.

Catch of the day!

As darkness fell our focus switched to our dunking poles. We got the big poles out and lit the hibachi to cook dinner.

Up the next morning, the night had been quiet, no action. I decided to change my set up on the big spinner to a balloon rig. I put a swivel on the end of my mainline and attached a leader of 80lb mono about eight feet long. I tied on a big  mustad and hooked on a fresh halalu I had caught at Waimea bay the day before we flew to Maui. I blew up a big party balloon and tied it to the swivel. A soft swing cast got it out far enough to catch the offshore breeze and off it went!

Later, as we were eating lunch, Dean says “Eh! Check your pole you get something!” My bell had mysteriously gone missing during the night, so there was no audible alarm, I look up and my rod is arched over and peeling out line! I ran over and picked up the rod, the line was ripping furiously! Finally, it stops, wow, never had anything this big on before! After some back a forth, pump crank, run, pump crank run, I started to gain more than it was taking. Color! What the hell is it? Dean had climbed down by the water, “Kawakawa!!” he yelled up. What? I had heard of the fish, but, other than pictures I had never seen one. Dean yells, “How big your leader?”, “80” I said. He grabbed the leader and pulled the fish on the rocks!! Wow!! Kawakawa? The swimming football would later weigh in at 14 lbs.

Sashimi and nitsuke....mmmmm!! Grampa would be proud!

Summer Camp


The last two years we stayed at a beach house that sat on the right edge of a large sand channel. The fishing was OK, not quite up to it’s expected potential, but, OK. Oama had showed up right out back the first year, but, didn’t the second. We eventually found them about quarter mile down the beach in a little cove.

This year, that house we rented wasn’t available so we had to search for another place. Judy eventually found one close by, in fact about quarter mile down the road. Hmmm, quarter mile? Which direction? Finally pictures confirmed what we hoped, it was right there at the cove that held the oama!

OK, OK, so it’s a beach house not really camping, but, hey we all paid our dues doing the hardcore camping out on the lava on the Big Island for many years, so, now that we’re old(er), we deserve some comfort. Besides, the women no like the hardcore stuff anymore and this the only way we can get to go fishing for one week!

Aug. 3, 2010 – 1700hrs. Finally there! The house is nice, decent kitchen, flat panel TV! We had come out a week ago to check out the grounds (ocean) so we knew what to expect there. We have some tako in the cooler to start with and plans to do a dive for more Wednesday or Thursday.

Aug. 4, 2010 – 0500hrs. Poles were quiet last night, only a few puhi. Looking forward to trying my new toy, a Daiwa XSHA50. Brought two rods to try it out with, my old Harrington home built and a Kimura Fenwick. They are two totally different rods so it should be interesting.

Aug. 4, 2010 – 0630hrs. Off down the road for a quick tako dive, tide is already on the rise so gotta get in the water quick. We pick up three pieces, I got two and Dean got one to add to the two he already had in the cooler. This is plenty, no sense taking more until we need them.

Aug. 4, 2010  – 1030hrs. Poles are quiet, bait fish eating our tako. Fugu action, dam it!! Swivel and lead coming back no hooks! Time to test cast the new reel. First up the Kimura with an eight ounce lead. OK, haven’t thrown a conventional much in the last 14 years (got married in 1996)so not expecting to see the lead disappear out into the horizon. Half cast to feel the combo, not bad feels OK. Three-quarter, oops little over-run, not too bad, wow the 8oz lead skipping in on the surface! Dam this thing is fast! OK, lets try crank’um! Frick! Backlash!! Boy do I need practice! My timing is totally off, gotta wait on it a little more. Couple of more casts and it’s getting better, but, dam I’m tired! Not in shape, the arms not used to this anymore, not to mention the age factor too! (Lets see what other kine excuses I get!) I never was an “out to the horizon” kinda guy, but, I was at least a decent caster, this is not good! Switch to the Harrington, heavier and slower action, not too promising….first cast not too bad, little overrun. Second cast, fricken backlash again! I feel old….After a rest I switch to a 6oz lead, first decent cast! Not that far but clean, straight no problems! OK nuff! Put one bait on toss’um out!

Aug. 5, 2010 – 0530hrs. Up for the dawn patrol!  Tide is low and the reef out to the right is partially exposed. Poles quiet again last night, only puhi and a bird that got tangled in Daniels line!

Aug. 5, 2010 – 0630hrs. Had coffee, sun is rising, going for a (careful) walk on the dry reef, maybe I’ll stumble over a tako!

Aug. 5, 2010 – 1030hrs. Tide is heavy on the rise, checking and recasting fresh baits in earnest. Quiet…frustrating, but, gotta keep working’um!

Aug. 6, 2010 – 0530hrs. Dawn patrol, no action again last night. Recast my rods, drinking coffee by myself, thinking, thinking, what to do, what to change……cannot give up. Jeff is supposed to come by today to check out the spot, these are his stomping grounds, hopefully he can break the ice!

Aug. 6, 2010 – 1030hrs. Jeff arrives, hand shakes all around. He’s surprised to hear our catch report (no catch report actually). He gets his line out, holy crap, 30+ beyond our lines! The conversation shifts to Jeffs high tech bait-casting rods. Beautiful, purpose built (by Jeff) custom rods! (Good thing the wife went to a doctors appointment, she’d be getting awful nervous about now!) He generously offers to let me mount my new reel on one of his rods to give it a try.  It takes a few casts to get into a rhythm, but, when I finally get a decent one, whoa, at least 20 (probably more) over my best cast with my rod! Amazing! Incredible power, the snap back was what I had to get used to, the first few casts it was leaving me way behind!

Aug. 7, 2010 – 1130hrs. Tide on the rise, recasting my kimura with my new Daiwa on it, fresh tako leg. Decent cast, set the drag, bell on. I walk back towards the house when my bell rings, come on, not again! The puhi and fugu are getting on my nerves! Wait a minute, this is different…wha’da’ya know, a small omilu! I don’t believe it!

Well, wanted to tag this one, but, braddah Dean ready fo cry ’cause “I neva eat Omilu sashimi long time!”Alright, alright, but, next one gotta release! Nothing like a little action to juice up da boys! Everybody hustling now!

Aug. 8, 2010 – 0600hrs. Two tohei another bird believe it or not and one cat! Judy the animal lover insists we get the hook out of the cats mouth. To me, it should be who ever left a baited hook lying around helping her, but, nobody talking. So what do I get for helping get the hook out? A dam bite on my right index finger! On top of dat, I was the only one who got up when the bird got tangled in Deans line at 1 am so I had to untangle  it myself and got bit by the dam bird too!!

Aug. 8, 2010 – 1830hrs. I wade into waist deep water getting blasted by waves with a 10ft. extension pole and get one oama! That’s right ONE!! Ain’t nobody gonna tell me I never tried hard enough to get more fish in the cooler! So, I throw out the oama and what I get? Fugu strike!! One friken oama and one Fugu eat’um!! Drink beer tonight…

Aug. 9, 2010 – 0630hrs. Missed the dawn patrol for the first time this trip, too much beer last night!

Aug. 9, 2010 – 1100hrs. I decide to hump some of my gear down the beach to a sand channel Jeff was eyeing up when he dropped by Friday. Tide is rising, we’ll see!  Two and a half hours, checking bait every 20 minutes, nutin…..at least one nice young  lady when come sunbathe nearby so it helped past the time.

It don't get much better than this!!

Aug. 10, 2010 – 0700hrs. Pack up day, gotta be out by 1100hrs. I look out at Dean and he’s working his rod like he get something on! “What? Get something Dean?” “I think so!” not too positive the answer!  I go out there and the line is off to side and pulling, might be a fish! Sliver!! Ooooo, one good size white papio!! Well, better late than never! Still two papio in one week? Not too good…..

8 pounds, not ulua, but, Deans still a happy camper!

We were getting there, we could cast our conventionals decently and without backlashes only the occasional over-run. Dean and I decided we were good enough to give one of the “known” spots a try.
Portlock Point, high cliff, deep water, biggest problem was humping all our gear down to the point. We had midweek days off so good chance to avoid the club crowd.
When we got there mid-afternoon, no one there! Yes!! We got all our stuff down and set up. Dean had Penn 4/o on a Fenwick and I had my Daiwa 600H on a Sabre 540 and a Penn Surfmaster on a Fenwick. We had frozen tako and some fresh Akule for bait.
It had been a quiet afternoon and no other fishermen and come so it looked like we had the point to ourselves! After the sun went down we had some dinner and sat back to enjoy the view and talk story.
A few hours later the tide had turned and was on it’s way back up. We decided to jack up the poles and recast. After recasting the Daiwa and sliding a couple tako legs down I recast the Surfmaster. I hooked a fresh Akule through the mouth and out the top of it’s head with a 36 BKN and slid it down my line. I had locked down the drag when I jacked it up so I backed it off and tested the drag pressure, pulling, reeling up and adjusting a few times before I was satisfied with the drag setting. I stood up and was about to grab the bell when the reel started screaming! I clicked off the ratchet and waited till it stopped. I couldn’t believe how fast the line was peeling out and started to question myself about the drag setting. Finally it stopped and I was able to pull the rod from the holder. I resisted the temptation to tighten the drag telling myself I had just checked and rechecked the setting a few seconds ago and I wasn’t in panic mode like I was right now! It made another run still going straight out, I just hung on, but, the little Surfmaster didn’t hold that much line in the first place so it was getting down there! Finally, it stopped and swung right, I leaned back on it and started to pump back some line. It felt kinda big, I started to worry about my line, only 30lb Ande with a 3 foot steel leader and another 8 inches of steel leader on the slide. I slowly started gaining more line as the fish swung back wide out to the left then swung back right again.

I flicked on my headlamp and followed the line down to the water, holy sh#*!! A big silver log with jaw full of big teeth! Kaku! I pumped and worked it in closer, it was just outside the shelf below the ladder. Dean had the slide gaff in hand so I backed up to bring the line in closer to him. He got the gaff on the line and slid it down. First try, miss…now the surge swept the fish up on to the shelf, I wound up the line furiously to keep it taught. Then when the water receded I had to do the opposite and feed line. When it was back in the water Dean tried to set the gaff again, miss, dam it!! The anxiety was soaring in both of us. Dean pulled the gaff up the line and said “I goin down get’um!” He took the gaff off the line and coiled the rope up and started down the ladder. Meanwhile, the fish was being swept up the shelf and off again and again! Finally after what seemed like forever I heard Dean yelling “Whoo hoo! I got’um I got’um!!” Now, my concern shifted to Dean, climbing up that chain ladder with one hand carrying the Kaku on the gaff in the other! I guess it was adrenaline ‘cause it didn’t take him all that long! When he reached the top he handed the gaff to me and I laid it on the ground. All we could do was stare! We both started laughing, compared to anything else we had caught this thing was ridiculous big!! That’s when we realized all we had was one of those dinky playmate coolers!

I hiked out to the car drove to Foodland and brought back a couple of bags of ice. I had to sacrifice my sleeping bag, I soaked it in salt water put the fish in it and packed it in ice. Next morning we tied all our poles together and hung the “fish bag” from it and humped it and all our other gear out one trip!
It weighed in on a certified scale at 35 pounds! The fish wasn’t the only one with a big toothy grin…